Defra Secretary George Eustice has admitted the Government was slow to issue guidance on how to keep workers safe in food manufacturing plants at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processing Association (BMPA), hit out at Ministers’ failure to set out best practise guidelines quickly when lockdown began.
Mr Eustice told the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Select Committee on June 30 that sector-specific guidance from Public Health England took ‘a little longer coming than we perhaps hoped’ due to the complex nature of the industry’s operations.
He said: “At the start of lockdown we received a whole host of complicated sector-specific questions.
“We worked with Public Health England to get guidance agreed and that was important to give those businesses the confidence and cover to know they were doing things which had been officially sanctioned. But to do that properly, it took a bit of time to work through.”
But Defra director general David Kennedy claimed the Food Resilience Forum, made up of 100 industry representatives, had successfully handled issues such as ‘social distancing, test and trace, factory closures and local lockdowns’.
Mr Kennedy said: “We were able to find solutions in days, not weeks, to these issues which allowed industry to carry on functioning and continue to be safe.
“Companies, food manufacturers and retailers were able to comply with the guidance designed specifically for this industry and operate in a safe way.
“There are a relatively small number of outbreaks, but if you look at absences through the food industry, those peaked at the beginning of the crisis and went down as we got social distancing measures in place.
“These have stayed at relatively low levels over the last few weeks and for me, that is a sign of successful, safe, operations while keeping the food supply for the country going.”